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September 23, 1973 - Image 3

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
Michigan Daily, 1973-09-23

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

magazine editors:
tony schwartz
marty porter
contributing editor:
laura herman

inside:

sundcty

mctgctzrne

books-page four
pre-iated blues-page five
the news in review-page six

Number 10 Page Three

September 23, 1973

A

small

farm

auction:

End

of

an

era

For most of his life, Willard Mull-
reed started his day around five in
the morning. First, he milked his cows
and fed the Black' Angus; later he
headed out to the fields where there
were corn, oats, wheat and hay to
plant and harvest. Often he finished
in the dark, as late as ten o'clock.
It isn't a secret that the golden
years of the small farmer, much like
the small businessman, have passed.
And so today it is on Mullreed's tiny
stake - 157 acres of land just outside
Ann Arbor - that the bulk of his
time-worn equipment is being auc-
tioned off. Like the'other days,' this
one promises to be a long one. But un-
like the others - 365 of them for
"forty-two years 'to be exactly", Wil-
lard Mullreed is calling it quits.
Today his task lies not in working
his equipment, but in watching' as it
is sold and carted away - less phys-
ically strenuous certainly, but emo-
tionally difficult.
In front of the plain white farm-
house there is an improvised park-
ing lot, and portable signs with green
'arrows .have been hastily planted
along adjoining Park Road. Behind
the house, where the hay had always
been grown; tables are topped with
boxes of household goods and assort-
ed knick knacks are strewn about.
Farm implements of all vintages have
temporarily joined the normal assort-
ment of rusty and weather - beaten
debris which sprinkle the grounds of
every farmyard in the country.
Today, Mullreed has plenty of com-.
pany. In fact, he is barely distin-
guishable amidst the swarms of his
fellow farmers. And mingling among
the farmers are an incongruous cos-
mopolitan group of antique collectors
and bargain hunters, reminders of
the farm's proximity to the city.
The most important guests, how-
ever, are from the Braun and Helmer
Auction Service, Lloyd Braun and
Jerry Helmer, along with their wives
and a clerk from the bank. They get
down to business quickly, setting up
" a desk for the cashier and distribut-
ing numbered yellow cards to all of
the potential customers.
As the melodic, rhythmic cadence
of the auctioneer begins, the crowd
gathers around a hay wagon which
serves today as both a podium and a
showcase. Mullreed is on the side-
lines, seeming to consciously avoid
the action, oblivious to the prices be-.
ing offered for his shovels and horse
collars. Instead he paces nervously
His gray work shirt and red suspen-
ders bob between the clusters of old
friends who have come for the occa-
sion.
"It'll be worse when they start on
the machinery," his son Durwood of-
fers solemnly. He surveys the fields
on which he grew up and nods: "He'll
take'it harder then."
Drive , fifteen mifiutes away from
campus, in any direction and on al-
most any road, and you run smack-
dab into the world of Willard Mull-
reed and his friends. Away from the
city and lives which revolve around
transiency and short-term academic
careers, there lies a tradition of con-
tinuity and custom, of habits, hob-
bies and friendships' measured in

4 I didn't have no thin' when I came here," Mnireed explains.

generations, of jobs built around life-
times and spent riding the cyclical
waves of agricultural fortune.
The farm auction is a vital part of
this whole tradition of rural life. Us-
ually it is held in the early spring
or fall, in time for planting or be-
fore the harvest. It provides, at least
in part, the chance to trade, gossip
and catch up on the latest develop-

tions loaded with obscure agricultural
and mechanical terms. They wear
faded overalls -,no longer a distinc-
tive trademark since they been ex-
propriated by city-slickers and would-
be hayseeds. On their heads are a
wide variety of caps, emblazoned with
strange insignia - "Funk's Hybrid,"
"Super-Krost," or "Massey - Fergu-
son," they say; "DeKalb," or "Michi-

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........ .. . .............. .. .. ...... . ........., ..r::::::.. ": ca ' "- J:"}Jo. : .. .. .:.>;"c-c"c > ac}}:}--o :J: c.- >

"He hates to see the stuff go," says
his son, "but that's the way it is."
"Tell him right," someone else
chimes in. "Tell him you just can't
make no goddamn money so you're
getting rid of the son-of-a-bitch."
These sentiments may be little
more than the inevitable grumblings
of working men, but in any case, the
farm has still been sold. In a few
weeks the Mullreeds will soon move
out. The sale, however, is more than
a personal swan song of one family.
For while everyone knows that
George Steeb and Ed Stacy and God-
frey Beck owned the Mullreed prop-
erty at one time o'r another before
1931, no one is quite sure who bought
it this time around, or for what pur-
pose. The talk is of "realtors" and
"speculators". A neighboring farmer
is said to have been offered two hun-
dred thousand dollars for his seventy-
five acres, and with figures like that
in the wind, it is safe to assume that
Mullreed's place won't remain a farm
for very long.
While the .physical and ideological
contrasts between Ann Arbor and its
surroundings have persisted, the situ-
ation is dynamic. It is similar to the
constant struggle between the for-
ests and grasslands on the plains, in
which two ways of life are in opposi-
tion and only one can remain viable.
In the not-too-distant future, the
ranch-style homes and subdivisions
which have already infiltrated Park
Road will most likely encompass this
farm as well.

As the afternoon wears on,, the wo-
men vie for the mason jars, dishes
and appliances, while the men opt ;for
the lumber, lawn mowers, and tires.
Finally the two groups converge again
for the glorious and long-awaited
climax. The heavy equipment and ma-
chinery is due to be auctioned off.
There are elevators and balers, a corn
picker and manure loader, silo fillers,
a gravity box, and a Co-op Black
Hawk side deliverer. Mullreed.had
bought and worked with them all. "I
didn't have nothin' when I came
here," he comments.
Before long three different, trac-
tors - an IH Farmall McCormick, a
Ford and a John Deere - all start
chugging at once. Each one goes back
a good fifteen years or more. The
crowd gathers close to listen for tell-

tale knocks and vibrations. "You got-
ta know your sounds," says one inter-
ested on-looker with his ear to the
motor.
Willard Mullreed is 'still standing
on the periphery, arms folded, his
Pioneer Seed Corn Hat firmly on his
head. He isn't watching as the auc-
tioneer climbs atop the 1951 John
Deere, plants his feet on the seat, and
grabs the steering wheel before be-
ginning his routine. And he doesn't
listen as the shout goes up, "All right
boys, shut 'em off ! All right, boys,
shut 'em off! We're just about in the
home stretch, and it's not going to'
take us long now."
Dave Margolick is Chief Photographer
of The Daily.

It isn't a secret that the golden y e a r s of the
small farmer have passed.

ments in the farming community and
as many as one thousand people have
been known to attend.
Aside from the talk, there are al-
ways plenty, of bargains. Embert
Johnson, who lives "by the Hilton Ho-
tel" in Romulus, proudly totes away
some attachments for the front of his
combine - a steal, he' figures at five
pieces for ten dollars. Milk cans ta-
tooed with "2211," Mullreed's number
at the local creamery, almost go for,
free at the end. And one man leaves
the premises with an elusive object he
had long coveted: a lamb emascula-
tor, purchased for a couple of dollars.
"That's what we need on you," a
friend shouts at him playfully, "Your
goddamn family wouldn't be so big."
The farmers here today reflect a
spirit of fraternal comaraderie. Their
dialect is infused with a semblance of
southern, rural drawl; their conversa-

gan Certified Seed" or "Smith-Doug-
las Fertilizer."
Most of the farmers here are older
men. On their faces are the accumu-
lated stubble of a couple of shaveless
mornings and errant streaks of dried
tobacco juice; but more than that the
gulleys and crow's feet of premature
old age. It is as if they rough terrain
of the fields in which they labor has
been magically transplanted around
their eyes, and mouths.
There is an unmistakably melan-
choly note beneath the county-fair
atmosphere of the auction. For at
least one participant, it means the
end of the line. Willard Mullreed is
ostensibly retiring because of age and
i desire to take it easy. They are whis-
pering around here today, however,
that he would have liked to stick it
out for a few more years, and that
high overhead and taxes made it im-
possible.

.

Photos and Text
by
David Margolick

The auctioneers finish around the
hay wagons, alternately cajoling, be-
rating, and imploring the recalcitrant
to start buying. Lloyd Braun sells fer-
tilizer and Jerry Helmer is in real es-
tate, but each is a graduate of auc-
tioneering college in Iowa and knows
the pitch inside out.
"Onedollarwhollgivemeadollarandit
willcostyoutenintown," one of them
yells out. "Look at what I've got for
you, boys;" or "How about these old-
fashioned horse collars, three for the
money?"
Fnr 1kit a mnrt nnv, the hiriing iS

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